Monday, November 15, 2010

Left Hook: How Liberals Keep Arguing the Wrong Point and Fall Into the Same Old Trap.

Sometimes I wish I could get the majority of liberals into one large room and smack them upside the head. In all my life I’ve never met a more dense, naïve or rigid group of people. If you think the far Right is stuck on a broken narrative, try hanging out with a bunch of neo-Marxist egalitarians. You’ll be signing up for the next CPAC.

The reason for my angst is the often futile and flawed arguments so many liberals make to counter Libertarian and otherwise conservative ideology regarding the relative virtues of unbridled capitalism. Case in point, the long-held belief among many of them that the reason for the various economic crises the nation has endured over its storied existence is due to the fact that capitalism is inherently corrupt. And the reason it’s corrupt? Greed. That’s right, good old-fashioned greed. What we need is a more compassionate economic system that treats everyone fairly and, more importantly, equally, so we can evolve into the beings we were meant to and the human millennium can finally be achieved.

Forgetting the fact that attempts at creating just such a society have thoroughly failed and have usually brought misery and suffering and left a trail of death and destruction in their wake, the whole damn premise is wrong. The debate has never been, and should never be about capitalism vs. socialism or communism or fascism or whatever it is that the far Right is peddling. The real debate is and should be about unbridled and unfettered capitalism vs. a well-regulated and tamed capitalism. Whenever liberals or progressives allow themselves to be coerced into the former argument, or, worse, insist on making it themselves, they lose. Period. For if the choice is between an economic system that, even with all its inherent flaws, has at least brought a measure of wealth and prosperity to most of the West, or an economic system whose flaws were far more overt and deleterious, most of the country, and the world for that matter, would gladly opt for the lesser of the two evils. That some Liberals still don’t get that is mind numbing.

If they could only look past their own ideology they would see the real culprit isn’t greed, but rather what happens when greed goes unchecked and runs amuck. A careful study of the economic crises that have befallen the nation and the world have revealed the two biggest and consistent offenders: 1. A wanton lust for power and control that exceeds all social mores; and 2. A naïve insistence that all markets are basically rational and if left alone will eventually correct themselves and restore order and balance to the system. To draw an analogy, it would be like the driver who can’t help but speed down a busy highway, yet vehemently believes that not only isn’t he endangering anyone, but also shrugs off any hint that he needs a speed limit. As the car proceeds recklessly towards the edge of a cliff, all inside are oblivious to the fate that awaits them.

But to hear some liberals, it’s the engine itself that’s at fault. The solution is to strip it of its natural horsepower and reduce it down to the size of a bicycle. That way it would never be in a position to fall off a cliff in the first place. Off course it would never get anywhere either, but that isn’t important to the proponents of the argument. The only concern they have is preventing a tragedy from happening. Forgetting that sins of omission are just as harmful as sins of commission is of course the downfall of Marxist philosophy.

While Marx got a number of things right when he wrote about worker alienation and the constantly reoccurring economic crises of the West, he was less than a visionary about one indelible truth about humanity. And that was that for all their attempts at forging a more civilized society, humans have never been particularly interested in attaining anything close to equality with one another. It’s simply not written into their DNA. From the moment they enter the world, there is an instinct to strive to be better that knows no bounds. It is one thing to have an equal playing field; it is quite another to be the same as each other. Most liberals, whether they call themselves Marxists or not (and let’s be fair, most don’t), retain that egalitarian spirit of Marx and men like him. They remain optimistic that some day humanity will somehow out grow the urge to one up each other and work together for the greater good. Gene Roddenberry – creator of Star Trek – was just that sort of incurable optimist. In his utopian future, mankind, after suffering through a cataclysmic third world war, finally threw off the shackles of its primitive instinctual desires and “evolved” into a civilized race. Laudable, but ultimately Pollyanna. The truth is that in the countless millennia that have passed since we crawled out of the cave, we have never shown even the slightest hint of emotionally evolving much beyond where we started. We have certainly made technological advances, but mankind remains essentially what he has always been: a creature of habit that instinctually abhors direction. To hold out hope of a metamorphosis is to ignore the good senses we were given.

But if Marxism has become for liberals a bankrupt religion of sorts, the simple truth is that conservatives need to disown their own form of demagoguery. The Laissez-faire philosophy espoused by Adam Smith is about as outdated as a Model-T at the Indianapolis 500. Believing that markets act rationally and do not need any regulation flies in the face of virtually every piece of data available. The stock market crash of 1929 and the sub-prime mortgage crisis of 2008 drive this point home vehemently. While both may have had different components to them, both ostensibly had one common thread. They both resulted from an indelible belief that prices would continue to soar in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. When both bubbles ended up bursting, millions were adversely affected and the world’s economy was driven to its knees. It is the lesson of history. Markets, like drivers, do not regulate themselves. Worse, they have no desire to. Like it or not, limits are needed, not to strip the engine of its horsepower, but to ensure that the horsepower is used responsibly and that no one is needlessly harmed. Believing that economic upheavals are the price we pay for having a prosperous society is like blaming the law of inertia for head-on collisions. When in doubt never look at the brake pedal.

So, at the risk of saying a pox on both your houses, it is time for both sides of the ideological spectrum to put away their fanciful toys and grow up. This is one progressive who is sounding a call to a new way of thinking. If a new narrative is what we need, then we are going to need a new breed of warriors to carry it. The Tea Party candidates who won this year, and even those who didn’t, fervently believe in a limited government that leaves the private sector alone, forgetting of course that that is exactly how we got into this fiasco in the first place. In their narrow-minded view of the world, caveat emptor would rule the day. No brakes, no parachutes, just “individual liberty” for all. To the victors go the spoils, and for the rest of us the gristle.

And on the other side of that coin, left-leaning, pro-government ideologues who, while good intentioned, nonetheless can’t resist the temptation to believe that every problem has a bureaucratic solution to it. Left to their own devices they would strip every vestige of humanity away from our existence and claim it was for our own good. In the end, while they have brought about some good, they ultimately solve nothing and end up reinforcing the arguments of their opponents.

A hundred and eighty degrees from wrong is still wrong. Intelligent people cannot live and thrive in such a polarized environment. If we have learned anything it is that both paradigms of the Right and the Left have thoroughly failed the nation, and serve as a painful reminder that ideology, for its own sake, is a curse that continues to plague us and will never relent so long as we continue to worship at its alter.

There is a saying that goes something like this. “Ships are safe in the harbor; but ships were never meant to stay in the harbor.” To which I would add, “And they should always have enough life boats … just in case.”


Anonymous said...

While you are right, socialism has never worked, you are wrong about unbridled laissez-faire capitalism, it has never been tested, so we don't actually know if it works or not.

You keep asserting that unregulated capitalism caused the great depression as well as the recent recession - Do you honestly believe are economy is unregulated?

You can argue it isn't regulated enough, and then we can have a discussion, but to suggest it is not regulated at all is borderline lunacy.

Peter Fegan said...

Well first off, I didn't suggest it wasn't regulated at all - that was your interpretation.
Secondly, the point of the piece, which without quite realizing it you just validated, is that people who come from extreme ends of the political spectrum do not have a clear understanding of the reality of the situation.

After checking out your blog, it wasn't all that hard to figure out which side you fall on.

As for the two economic crises that I note the former (1929) was owed directly to a lack of regulation of Wall Street; the latter (2008) was brought about in large part by the repeal of Glass-Steagall, which ironically happened under Clinton. In both cases there was a naive belief that the markets knew what they were doing and would act responsibly. In both cases they were wrong.

I assume since you have not brought any tangible alternative explanations to what caused both those meltdowns, you have none, and your main purpose is to throw water on my piece and pound your chest as you salute, once more, the founding fathers and YOUR interpretation of the Constitution.

At any rate good luck.

Anonymous said...

"The Laissez-faire philosophy espoused by Adam Smith is about as outdated as a Model-T at the Indianapolis 500. Believing that markets act rationally and do not need any regulation flies in the face of virtually every piece of data available. The stock market crash of 1929 and the sub-prime mortgage crisis of 2008 drive this point home vehemently."

You mention laissez-faire capitalism in the first sentence, then say the crash of 1929 and mortgage crisis of 2008 "drive this point home vehemently." Not sure how else I am supposed to interpret that?

The point of your piece was to be condescending? You achieved that. Interesting how you didn't address the fact that we have never tried laissez-faire capitalism, but you know it won't work.

One could argue the Smoot-Hawley act was a primary causative entity in 1929.

2008 was caused in large part by regulations forcing lenders to lend to people unqualified to by homes.

Your last comment is uncalled for, but since its your blog, I guess you can insult people all you want.

Peter Fegan said...

Oh yes the old "poor people were responsible for the '08 crash" theory. How convenient. If only they knew their proper place.

As far as Smoot-Hawley was signed into law in 1930, so it being a causative entity in 1929 wasn't possible. At any rate exports were not a huge portion of the U.S. economy at that time, so it was negligible at best.

As far as my last comment goes, I took a look at your blog and surmised. If the shoe fits wear it.

Anonymous said...

You said - Oh yes the old "poor people were responsible for the '08 crash" theory. How convenient. If only they knew their proper place.

I notice you didn't refute this.

My bad on Smoot-Hawley, it helped cause the Great Depression, but not the crash of 1929. But exports weren't the problem, it was protectionist tariffs on imports that caused inflation.

You can surmise all you want, just not sure why you need to be insulting in your manner. Are you incapable of having a discussion without doing so?

I'm pretty sure on MY BLOG, I was quite respectful towards you. Not sure why you can't be the same way.

My apologies for visiting your blog and leaving a comment. I surmise you don't like people who disagree with you.